Denver, Colorado 2020-10-29 19:39:00 –
An El Paso County District Court judge tried a state public defender in contempt of court this week when the attorney refused to appear in person to represent his client in a planned felony jury trial.
District Court Judge Robert Lowrey found Public Defender Adam Steigerwald violated the judge’s previous order that everyone involved in the trial be present in the courtroom for the proceedings, a transcript says of Tuesday’s event.
Steigerwald appeared via a video streaming platform due to security concerns around the novel coronavirus pandemic, and he told Lowrey he didn’t believe an in-person trial could be safely held being given soaring rates of COVID-19 in El Paso County and across the state, according to the transcript.
Lowrey disagreed, telling Steigerwald that the trial could continue given the health precautions taken by those present, including the wearing of masks.
“I want to be clear on the record, the court is not doing something like this lightly,” Lowrey said in holding Steigerwald in contempt. “This has certainly never happened in the history of this division. I have never seen a lawyer engage in what I believe to be inexplicable behavior by refusing to appear for trial. “
Steigerwald appeared in court on Thursday for the contempt of court conviction – penalties can range from a fine to six months in prison – but this was delayed at least until December 7 to give Steigerwald’s lawyer the time to gather witnesses and consider mitigating factors.
The conflict between judge and attorney highlights the fine line of Colorado’s legal system since the pandemic began this spring, as courts attempt to continue to operate in a safe manner.
The vast majority of Colorado courts have changed some or most of their procedures to allow virtual video appearances during the pandemic, although most still require jury trials to be held in person. Without a state-wide Colorado Supreme Court mandate, individual jurisdictions have established their own rules, which sometimes even vary from courtroom to courtroom, said Tristan Gorman, coordinator of the court. legislative policy for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.
“We are dealing with a virus that knows no geographic boundaries and a system where the protocols, procedures and requirements of defense attorneys and defendants can be completely different from county to county,” a- she declared.
The association has called on the state’s Supreme Court to publish state-wide standards for the functioning of courts, a step judges have so far refused to take, citing the big differences between the workload of judicial districts, physical spaces and available technology which they believe would constitute a holistic approach. difficult.